The Women Peace and Security program fits right into the Defense Department's breadbasket because "it is a tool for smart power," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Rebecca J. Sonkiss, the Joint Staff's deputy director for counter threats and international cooperation.
Sonkiss was among the many luminaries discussing the ways the DOD is adopting the Women Peace and Security Act of 2017 in all it does. The virtual event was sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace March 29.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks put it in perspective in her remarks helping open the conference.
"Around the world, the advancement of women is linked to the advancement of good governance," she said. "And good governance often leads to a more stable and less turbulent world, which directly impacts our work at the Department of Defense. Our work on women peace and security is critical not just for U.S. national security, but equally importantly, for the safety, equality and opportunity of women and girls around the world."
Women are underrepresented in the security sector, and that gives a skewed picture of the needs, wants and fears of a society. "By understanding the security needs of the entire population during conflict, the DOD enhances its operational effectiveness and mitigates disproportionate harm against vulnerable populations that can adversely affect long-term stability," Sonkiss said.
Part of the program is to model an inclusive military. Women must be in meaningful security jobs, Hicks said. "While we have made progress … we know that there is much more work to be done in the years ahead, including within our own forces as we seek to model and employ the WPS principles we work with partner nations to uphold," she said. "That is why I recently stood up the Deputy's Workforce Council, which will bring high-level sustained leadership focus to topics that include diversity, equity and inclusion."
Security cooperation is key to the program. The 2017 law came from the United Nations Women Peace and Security resolution passed in 2000. All nations should abide by this resolution, and DOD reaches out to allies and partners to include the voices of women in their security debates.
"Professional military forces have legitimacy to their populations," Navy Adm. Craig Faller, the commander of U.S. Southern Command, told the conference. "You can have the best combat power, the best gear, be the best marksmen or communicators and lose because you don't gain legitimacy with our populations."
To the admiral, professionalism equals profound respect for human rights, respect for the laws of armed conflict and respect for the rule of law. These are key to everything Southcom does and that means the inclusion of women and diversity, he said.
"And again while we're not perfect, we've made progress and we continue to," he said. "So that professionalism conversation is carried on with each and every one of our counterparts."
U.S. Strategic Command is — among other missions — responsible for the American nuclear deterrent. The command is bringing education to the forefront to "operationalize" the women peace and security principles in all operations, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, the deputy commander. The command is building a base of eminently qualified personnel across all mission sets.
"We're hopeful this course will help us improve our critical thinking and enable a more diverse decision-making for our day-to-day engagements," he said.
The bottom line is that every qualified person is needed for the department's many missions.
"I'm exceptionally proud of what the women and men of the department do every day to champion women peace and security principles all across the globe," Hicks said. "Ultimately, as we take care of our people and join forces with our allies and partners to promote women's empowerment and gender equality around the world, we ensure that the department can perform its number one job effectively: Defending our nation."